Lavender is a popular garden flower, and one which rewards richly those who grow it. It is a plant that grows well in many gardens, and which can fit in with a wide range of different types of garden. Read on to learn more about the types of lavender, how to grow and care for them, and the rewards growing lavender can provide:
Choosing Lavender Plants
One of the most important things to understand when it comes to lavender is that there are several different plants that bear the name. The different types of lavender differ considerably when it comes to their colour, fragrance, growth habits and levels of hardiness. It is important to understand the characteristics of these plants before you decide which one you should introduce to your garden.
English Lavender in the edge of a forest garden.
The most commonly grown types are generally divided into two groups:
- English lavender (and its hybrids, Lavandula x intermedia and Lavandula angustifolia) &
- Tender French & Spanish lavenders (Lavandula stoechas, Lavandula latifolia etc..)
In cooler climates, the former group of lavenders are much easier to grow. They are relatively tough and resilient plants that can be left outside in the ground or in containers all year round (in the right soil conditions). These plants have a strong and pleasing fragrance that can fill the whole summer garden with a delightful scent, and while their flowers are generally purple or purplish-blue, they can also be found with flowers in shades of mauve, pink or white. Generally, these plants will grow to be between 30cm and 90cm tall.
Tender lavenders are less resilient and in a cooler temperate climate, cannot usually be left outside all winter. They can however sometimes be grown in containers, and moved inside or under cover when the colder weather arrives. These plants also tend to be less long-lived and do not have as strong a fragrance as English or hybrid English lavenders.
Since the various tender lavenders are a more complex proposition for temperate climate gardeners, in the rest of this article we will concern ourselves only with the former type, which is more suitable for a wider range of gardens and climates.
Why Grow Lavender in Your Garden?
There are a range of reasons why growing lavender in your garden could be a good idea. Providing that you can provide it with suitable soil and growing conditions, the first reason is that it can be an extremely easy and low maintenance plant to grow.
The flowers look very pretty, and smell great too. But it is not only the human inhabitants of the space who will benefit from its inclusion in a garden. Lavender is also an excellent bee-friendly plant, and will attract bees and other beneficial insects and pollinators to your garden. Attracting the wildlife is one great way to make it easier to garden organically and sustainably where you live.
As you will find out a little later in this article, lavender is also an incredibly useful plant. It is not only good in a garden. It can also be harvested for a range of uses around your home.
Where to Grow Lavender
When determining whether or not it is a good idea to grow lavender in your garden, it is important to think about the conditions where you live. You should consider how much sun your garden gets, and the type of soil that you have.
Lavender is perfectly happy on well-draining soil of poor or moderate fertility and it is extremely drought tolerant. It is ideal for chalky or alkaline soils in areas of full sun. Though it will grow in areas with clay soil it will tend to be quite short lived and the stems will become woody. If you have a soil that is on the heavy side then you should mix in some organic matter and gravel to improve drainage. It is also a good idea to plant lavender on a mound or ridge so roots are not waterlogged.
Lavender can be grown in the garden or in containers. Though if you are growing lavender in containers, care should be taken to ensure that you do not over-water. The soil medium should also be mixed with grit to ensure good drainage. Wherever lavender is planted, care should be taken to avoid too much water, especially in the winter. If there is one thing that lavender does not like, it is having waterlogging around its roots.
Lavender can look lovely when planted on the sunny fringes of a forest or woodland garden. It is frequently to be found in cottage gardens. It also finds a place in more formal planting schemes, along the edges of a path, perhaps, where its fragrance can be regularly enjoyed.
Lavender can be grown from seed, though it should be noted that this can be tricky since the seed is slow to germinate and germination can be patchy, especially if conditions are not optimal. Lavender is easy to buy from your local garden centre or plant nursery and this is the route that most people will take. You could also divide an existing plant to create a new plant for your garden.More information on lavender propagation can be found later in this article.
It is best to plant lavender between April and May, as the soil is beginning to warm up.However, you can also plant out lavender plants in the fall, after the warmth is just beginning to fade. It is best to avoid placing lavender plants during the warmest or coldest parts of the year, as planting at these times can place your plants under a lot of stress and they may not thrive.
If you plan to grow lavender as individual specimen plants, plan to place them around 90cm apart. If you want to create a hedge or border, plant them around 30cm apart.
Caring For Lavender
Newly planted lavender in the ground should be watered well during its first summer. But it will be very drought tolerant once established and should require little care. Container plants will need more water, but are still relatively easy to care for throughout the year. Wherever they are grown, your plants will not require feeding, since they can survive in soils with surprisingly low fertility.
One remaining lavender flower after other flowering stems have been harvested.
The main job with lavender is harvesting the blooms. You can cut them fresh for the applications described below, or deadhead the flowers as you go along to encourage more blooms to form.
If you wish to use your lavender for essential oil production or other similar uses, harvest the flowers early on a dry, sunny day for best results.
One thing to note is that, while it is a great idea to harvest some lavender for your own use, you should still be sure to leave some for the bees and other insects. Towards the end of the growing season, you may also like to consider leaving some of the spent flowering stems as food for seed-eating birds and other wildlife.
Uses for Lavender in Your Home
Lavender is not only useful in the garden, it can also be useful in your home. Here are just some of the many ways that you could consider using this useful plant:
- Use fresh in floral displays inside your home.
- Dry lavender for floral displays.
- Use lavender (sparingly) in culinary applications.
- Use lavender to make essential oil or infused oils for a range of uses.
- Make some soap using home-grown lavender.
- Create some bath bombs using your lavender.
- Make lavender unguents or salves for use in herbal medicine.
In addition to cutting off flowers for use in your home, and deadheading the spent blooms, another of the main jobs when it comes to growing lavender in your garden is pruning your plants. Lavender is generally pruned once a year, in early autumn. However, plants are sometimes also given a secondary trim in the spring, to neaten things up after the winter months.
Why Prune Lavender?
Lavender should be pruned each year because a lavender shrub that is left unpruned will become more woody more quickly. It can lose vigour and the woody stems can look straggly and unappealing. What is more, the woody stems will be more prone to frost or water rot damage and disease, and can crack or break more easily. Pruning lavender, therefore, will help keep your plants healthy and looking good for longer.
Lavender does not generally re-grow well from old wood and so if your lavender plant has become woody and old, it is generally best to replace it.
Lavender pruning in progress.
How Much Should Your Prune Lavender?
Use a pair of sharp secateurs to remove the flower heads and cut back this years growth, making sure that some new green growth remains. Do not be too frightened to cut back your lavender, especially if it is the English variety. Give it a good haircut each year and your plants will look good and remain healthy for much longer. It does not pay to be too tentative.
You can remove most of the new, green growth, so long as you cut above the small buds and green shoots that are forming on the lower woody material. However, generally speaking, people will remove the flowering stems and, at most, 2.5cm of the length of the leafy growth. This will encourage it to grow back bushy and full.
As mentioned above, while you should prune most of your plant, you may like to consider leaving some still-purple flowers for the bees and other insects, and some spend blooms for seed-eating birds.
When pruning your plants, plant health should be the primary concern. However, aesthetics may also be a consideration. Plants in a wilder and more naturalistic planting scheme may look wrong if pruned too neatly, while plants in a formal planting scheme should be more neatly trimmed. The general style in your garden and your own personal preferences are definitely worth bearing in mind.
Another thing to think about when pruning your lavender is whether you intend to propagate it. If you intend to propagate your lavender – making new plants from existing ones – then it is important to consider this before trimming all of your plant.
One of the easiest ways to make new lavender plants is through layering. Layering is a technique which basically involves:
- Taking a low, woody branch of your lavender plant.
- Cutting a shallow notch in that branch.
- Bending the branch downwards, pressing that notch to the ground and making sure that it stays there, covered in soil.
- Using a peg, or a heavy rock to hold the branch down.
- Waiting for roots to form. (Using rooting compound increases the chances of success, but is not essential to the process.)
Considering branches that might be used for this purpose is a good idea before you prune, as logistics may mean that you need to keep these branches a little longer in order to accomplish your aims.
You can also propagate lavender through cuttings. You can take softwood or semi-ripe cuttings from your young plants in early or mid summer. You can also take hardwood cuttings after the main early autumn pruning. So deciding whether you will take hardwood cuttings, and where on the plant you intend to take them from could be something else to consider before you prune your plant.
Other than watering when required, harvesting and pruning, you will likely find that you do not need to do much more to keep your lavender plants happy and healthy. If you provide these plants with the right conditions, and prune them well, they should continue to enrich your home and garden for many years to come.